I spent 8 hours on Amtrak's Texas Eagle for $47, and it felt like flying business class, but I wouldn't do it again

jill robbins on texas eagle seat on left, observation desk on right
I traveled between the Texas cities of San Antonio and Alpine on the Texas Eagle.Jill Robbins
  • I traveled on Amtrak's Texas Eagle, taking the eight-hour route from San Antonio to Alpine in Texas.

  • My $47 coach-class seat was comfortable, but I wish I'd brought my own blanket and pillow.

  • The train had impressive gourmet meals and showers, but they weren't available to coach travelers.

For $47, I traveled from San Antonio to Alpine on Amtrak's Texas Eagle.

Texas eagle front of amtrak train
The Texas Eagle departed San Antonio early in the morning, so I watched sunrise from the train.Jill Robbins

It takes me about five hours to drive from my home in San Antonio to Alpine, a small West Texas town near Big Bend National Park.

I wasn't in a major rush on my most recent trip to the popular adventure-travel destination, so I left my car at home and bought a $47 ticket for Amtrak's Texas Eagle, which runs between Chicago and San Antonio.

The coach-class seats were comfortable, but I wish I'd brought my own pillow and blanket.

inside of the texas eagle train
The coach section of the Texas Eagle.Jill Robbins

My coach-class seat on the Texas Eagle was large and comfortable.

There were no middle seats in the section, and each chair reclined and had its own power outlet. For the sake of comparison, riding in Texas Eagle's coach class felt similar to flying in business class.

I do, however, wish I'd brought a blanket and neck pillow.

Because my train departed from San Antonio in the wee hours of the morning, I wanted to get some sleep once I boarded. Unfortunately, Amtrak doesn't provide blankets or pillows to coach passengers, so I had to make do with my jacket.

Amtrak trains offer impressive amenities, but they weren't available to coach passengers.

amtrak's traditional dining menu on left, cafe menu on right
Passengers staying in sleeper cars could order from the Traditional Dining menu, but coach-class riders were limited to the café menu.Jill Robbins

On the Texas Eagle, passengers who booked sleeper cars could eat in the dining car, with the option to order gourmet meals from the Traditional Dining menu. It featured omelets, steaks, crab cakes, and more; the food was included in their ticket cost.

I was seated in coach, so I ate in the Amtrak Café, which is open to all passengers. The café is similar to a snack bar or concession stand, and it sells hot food and snacks.

Passengers in higher-category rooms also had access to showers, some of which were private. Because my trip was relatively short, I didn't need to shower on board.

The observation car was the best part of the ride.

observation lounge on texas eagle
The observation car had the best views on the train.Jill Robbins

The Texas Eagle is a superliner train, meaning it has two levels. The observation car was located on the upper level, and it had floor-to-ceiling windows that provided incredible views of the passing landscape.

I hung out in the observation car during the early-morning hours and watched the sun rise over the desert. The entire train seemed to be at about half capacity, and I had the observation car almost to myself until about 7 a.m.

Other passengers were friendly and curious about my trip.

jill robbins masked selfie on the left, train passengers boarding on the right
I talked to other passengers during the ride.Jill Robbins

When I fly alone, I avoid eye contact and wear headphones to signal I'm not interested in having conversations with other passengers. Riding the Texas Eagle felt different, and I found myself willing to be more social.

Most of the other passengers I met were couples in their 70s traveling around the US together. One man told me that he and his wife preferred rail travel since she had a fear of flying. The two retirees also enjoyed the slower pace of train travel.

Though my trip was relatively short, I felt a sense of camaraderie with the other riders, who were delighted to share their best train-travel hacks.

The train ride was bumpier than expected, and all of the movement took some getting used to.

sunrise over remote Texas land, jill robbins legs sitting in coach seat
Luckily, I don't experience motion sickness.Jill Robbins

The train ride was bumpier than expected. At points, it felt like a cross between plane turbulence and the side-to-side motion you feel on a boat sailing through rough water.

Fortunately, I don't get motion sickness and found the movement to be soothing once I got used to it. But I could see it being bothersome to nausea-prone riders.

There was no WiFi on board, and I didn't have cell service for half of the journey.

Texas eagle side of amtrak train
I took Amtrak's Texas Eagle from San Antonio to Alpine in Texas.Jill Robbins

I expected the train cars to have WiFi, so the lack of internet connection came as quite a surprise. The bulk of the route took us through remote areas of Texas, so I also didn't have cell service for about half of my ride.

The lack of WiFi didn't hinder my experience on this particular trip, but I would probably find it more frustrating if I were taking a longer ride or traveling during the day.

In the future, I'll make sure to download movies or e-books ahead of time.

Next time I travel to Alpine, I'll stick to driving.

amtrak sign for alpine, texas
I arrived in Alpine, Texas, eight hours after I boarded the train.Jill Robbins

Though I'm glad I took my solo train ride from San Antonio to Alpine, it was a one-and-done experience for me. Next time, I'll drive, which I find to be the easier and faster option. Plus, I won't have to leave in the middle of the night.

I'd consider going on a scenic long-haul train trip if I were traveling with a partner, but I wouldn't want to ride longer than 10 to 12 hours in coach.

Amtrak does offer ticket deals and specials for sleeper-car fares, but the higher-category accommodations I've scouted so far are significantly more expensive. Based on searches on Amtrak's website, the rooms run from about $230 to about $640, which is pricier than some flights.

It helps to book train rides as far in advance as possible. I paid $47 for my coach ticket, but if I booked the San Antonio route to Alpine route two or more weeks in advance, the price would run as low as $34.

 

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